Jake One is All About the Music

Seattle-based producer, Jake One (born Jake Dutton, aka “Snare Jordan“), is humble, the kind of guy to throw a hoodie on, stuff his hands in his pockets, and walk to the corner store for a bag of chips like any other fellow on the city boulevard. Yet, some of his closest friends and collaborators are Grammy Award-winners, platinum-selling musicians, and world-famous names. But Jake One doesn’t sweat all that. Flash isn’t his mission, it doesn’t stick to his attention. He cares about the next project and finding new, devastating inspiration.

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In a way, he can trace it back to his school days. Back around 1991, he had a coveted Georgetown University Starter jacket. This was when the school’s basketball team was especially renowned with the likes of Alonzo Mourning. On the playground, he could feel his peers’ eyes on him, the heat of attention. So, the next day, he took it back to the store and exchanged it. Today, Jake One brings that same almost-anonymous comportment to his career, which has, nevertheless, garnered him millions of record sales and spins.

“Some people want to be stars,” Jake One says, “and that’s great. I’ve seen some guys who might have less talent but they know how to go into a room and sell the dream.” He adds, “I’m just the kind of person that doesn’t want attention. I’m trying to take care of the financial parts and do the art I love. The rest of it I’m cool on; I don’t really care.”

Jake One, who creates great YouTube tutorial videos, is generally the kind of person to let you discover his work instead of broadcasting it. That’s rare. To date, the producer has worked with 50 Cent and G-Unit, Jay Z, De La Soul, MF Doom, Brother Ali, Drake, Dr. Dre, Macklemore and many others. One of his first singles for G-Unit sold three million copies. Yet, he was never a focus. He wants his music to do the talking. If he has to tell someone what he’s doing, then he’s not doing his job. Jake One doesn’t even have a manager (though he does have a lawyer he works closely with). He handles his own business affairs. He’s lax; nonchalant, especially when dealing with celebrity tastemakers.

“I’m always trying not to be the person who’s a pain in these guys’ ass,” he says. “Everybody’s bothering them about something. I want to stay out of the way.” He adds, “When I have something I feel like might make sense to send to J. Cole, or whoever it is—I’m fortunate at this point where I’ve done so many records with so many people, I pretty much can get to anybody if I really want to. But you just want to be an asset.”

He grew up in the Emerald City listening to Michael Jackson. His dad listened to jazz and introduced his son to it. He remembers sitting in front of the stereo, watching records spin on end. For him, music has always been associated with good times. As he grew up, hip hop grew too. He and his friends cherished the albums they could get their hands on. They’d listen to the rare rap radio shows on Sundays. As sparse as the options were, they were also that special. In Seattle, the first real hip hop star was Sir Mix A Lot. Seeing Mix garner success locally and then internationally opened Jake One’s eyes.

“At this point,” he says, “every place has had somebody come from it. Geographical boundaries aren’t as difficult. But I’d say up until the internet era, you were fighting a hard uphill battle.”

To achieve his goal as an impactful career musician, Jake One knew he had to work outside of the confines of the city he grew up in. So, he sought connections outward. It worked. But today, the artist still maintains long roots in Seattle, often giving beats to significant up-and-comers (like Parisalexa and Travis Thompson). Those are valuable commodities, expertly crafted. At first, Jake One focused his production with samples. Soon, though, he started to write his own musical parts, learning theory and gaining more skills as an artist.

“I took some lessons,” Jake One says, “got a better feel overall on how to play music. But I still maintain that ear of a novice, that DJ ear, like, ]oh, this strikes me for whatever reason.’” He adds, “I feel like every time I sit down, I learn something new.”

More recently, the producer finds himself diving back into samples. The difference is both stylistic and aesthetic, and also financial. When using samples and not original content, the composer might not make as much of a profit on publishing deals. But Jake One, again, doesn’t much care about that. He wants to make what he loves and in so doing, he wants to serve the song.

“I wanted to find the joy I had when I was younger,” he says. “Who cares about money? It will come.”

To do so, Jake One will fly anywhere for records. He’s flown to Tokyo, Japan; Lautrec, France; and all over America to sift through record crates. Whenever he and his live band, Tuxedo, travel to a new city, the first thing they search out is the record shop and then the good eats. Jake One says he grew up collecting baseball cards and that has since turned to vinyl albums. One gets the impression that, if the 45 year old Jake One were a cartoon, he’d be a happy Scrooge McDuck diving into a vault of albums, swimming as the mallard millionaire might through gold bullion. For the artist, it’s about the next song, the thrill of creation. Everything else will amass after the fact and take care of itself.

“When I hear other songs that people made that just really humble me,” Jake One says, “Like, ‘Damn I’m trash!’ That makes me better. That’s how I judge if I like somebody’s stuff, honestly. Did it make me feel terrible?” He adds, “Music has been such a huge part of my life. I don’t think that would have been any different whether I’d made it or not.”

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